NFL Preview - Tennessee (5-2) at San Diego (2-5)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt proved he can perform through adversity last week, but he could face an even stiffer challenge this Sunday against both the authorities and the San Diego Chargers' top-ranked pass defense.
Britt helped the Titans rally for a 37-19 win over Philadelphia last Sunday at LP Field and was backup quarterback Kerry Collins' favorite target, finishing with 225 yards and three touchdown on seven receptions. The gaudy numbers came just days after Britt was involved in a bar fight Friday morning in downtown Nashville and was benched by head coach Jeff Fisher in the first quarter.
While the team and the NFL gather information about the incident, Britt will continue to prepare for a Chargers secondary that is holding opposing offenses to 158.6 passing yards a game.
It's still undecided if Titans starting quarterback Vince Young will be under center at Qualcomm Stadium this Sunday due to both knee and ankle problems. Young missed the win over the Eagles and Collins filled in, passing for 276 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions.
Fisher said before Collins got the nod last week that even if Young misses practice, he can still start because of his knowledge of the system.
"I am optimistic about this week, but he'll be day-to-day again," Fisher said.
Tennessee posted its third straight win and has scored at least 30 points in all three victories. It has put up 30 or more points four times this season and sits atop the AFC South standings with a 5-2 record, with Indianapolis and Houston tied for second place in the division with identical 4-2 marks.
The Titans have also won four in a row on the road dating back to last season and will enter the bye week following their tilt with San Diego.
What's also interesting about Tennessee's latest win was that All-Pro running back Chris Johnson was held to 66 yards on 24 carries by Philadelphia. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they neglected to focus their attention to Collins and the Titans' 29th-rated aerial assault.
San Diego hasn't been allowing receivers to get downfield too many times this season. However, the Chargers are still a disappointing 2-5 on the year and tied with Denver for last place in the AFC West.
Three straight losses following a shaky 2-2 start has left the Chargers in this position regardless of how well both the offense and defense has played. The results aren't showing up in the win column, and head coach Norv Turner is once again feeling the heat.
Many have wondered how the top team in the NFL in passing offense and total yards on both sides of the football owns such a lousy mark, but there are other areas of concern this team can improve on, such as protecting the football and forcing more turnovers.
The Chargers had four giveaways in the first half of Sunday's 23-20 home loss to the New England Patriots to put themselves in a 17-point hole. They managed to battle back until kicker Kris Brown struck the right upright on a 50-yard field goal attempt that would have erased the early deficit and sent the game into an extra period.
"Until we take care of the football, there will be a lot of conversation about how we're not very good, we're not very talented and we're not very well coached," Turner said. "We start taking care of the football and I think we'll give ourselves a chance to win."
Turner's team has committed 18 turnovers this season and its largest margin of defeat in five losses is eight points. The Chargers have dropped back-to-back three-point games.
San Diego does have the top passer in the NFL in Philip Rivers, who leads the league with a total of 2,344 passing yards and will be taking on a Titans defense that is surrendering 230.4 yards through the air per game.
The Chargers have a 23-13-1 lead in the all-time regular-season series against the Titans and routed Tennessee by a 42-17 count in Nashville during Week 16 of the 2009 campaign. The win was San Diego's sixth in a row over the Titans, who haven't bested the Bolts since a 27-0 home triumph in 1992 while then the Houston Oilers. The franchise's last victory in San Diego occurred in 1990, when the Oilers claimed a 17-7 decision.
Tennessee does have a 3-1 advantage in its overall postseason series with San Diego, though the Chargers won the only such matchup of recent vintage via a 17-6 triumph in a 2007 AFC First-Round Playoff. The Houston Oilers defeated the Chargers for the AFL Championship in 1960 and 1961, and also won an AFL Divisional Playoff in San Diego in 1979.
Turner is 3-4 in his career against the Titans, having gone 0-2 while with Washington (1994-2000) and 0-2 as well with Oakland (2004-05). Fisher is 0-6 in his career against San Diego, but has a 4-3 head-to-head record with Turner.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
Britt (23 receptions, 7 TD) is one of the league leaders in receiving yards (434) and touchdown grabs, with those numbers padded extensively against the Eagles. While he's still awaiting possible punishment for his late-night antics, the Titans will prepare the same way they did when the news broke of the incident. Britt's performance was the best by a Titans receiver since Drew Bennett had 233 yards receiving and three touchdowns against Kansas City on Dec. 13, 2004. The threat of Britt, who owns a touchdown catch in five straight games, having an encore showing will be on the minds of the San Diego defenders. The Titans, who posted 17 of their points off turnovers last week and won their 12th straight game against NFC foes, didn't have to use Johnson (662 rushing yards, 7 TD) that much in the latest win with Collins taking care of business through the air. Johnson is still a dangerous player, however, and can never be overlooked. He is aiming for ninth consecutive 100-yard rushing game on the road. Collins (535 passing yards, 5 TD, 3 INT) will get the start again if Young (745 passing yards, 7 TD, 2 INT) is unable to shake his knee and ankle problems. If he does play, Young will make it harder for the San Diego defense to prepare because of his escape ability.
San Diego's defense is allowing a league-low 158.6 passing yards and 244.3 total yards per game this season. Unfortunately it hasn't resulted into too many wins, as evidenced by the team's current mark. It will be tough to scheme against the Titans, who can use their newfound passing offense or send Johnson around the ends for a big gain. Chargers linebacker and leading tackler Kevin Burnett (38 tackles, 5 sacks, INT) has three sacks in the past three games. The Chargers must get to Collins fast if he's given the starting nod again, as the veteran can still do damage when he's given good protection. New England didn't find much luck running the football in a close win over the Chargers last week, as BenJarvus Green-Ellis was held to 24 yards and a score on 11 touches. Holding Tom Brady to 159 passing yards is a great accomplishment as well, one that would have been even better if the team had won. While Brady was able to keep the ball out of the Chargers' hands, he was sacked four times on Sunday, including twice by outside linebacker Antwan Barnes (5 tackles, 2 sacks). Top cornerbacks Antoine Cason (27 tackles, 2 INT) and Quentin Jammer (17 tackles, INT) must keep Britt in check and watch for Tennessee's other targets.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
When trying to defeat a three-time Super Bowl champion like the New England Patriots, protecting the football is key. The four turnovers in the first half staked the Pats to a 17-point advantage that San Diego almost erased, but fell just short. The Chargers fumbled four times on Sunday, losing three, and Rivers (2,344 passing yards, 13 TD, 6 INT) was picked off just once. He was forced to throw the football with such a large deficit, and backup running back Darren Sproles (24 receptions) finished with a game-best nine catches for 70 yards. Wide receiver Patrick Crayton (18 receptions) got into the act as well by gaining 82 yards on seven catches. The offensive line played a bit better this week and allowed just two sacks -- one week after Rivers was mangled for seven sacks in a loss at St. Louis. All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates (35 receptions, 540 yards, 8 TD) is enjoying another strong campaign and leads the Chargers in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. He also leads all NFL tight end with eight scoring grabs and is a big reason why San Diego is first in passing yards and total yards. Running back Mike Tolbert (300 rushing yards, 6 TD) has taken advantage of every opportunity this year, but faces a tough challenge in Tennessee's 10th-rated run defense. He didn't see much action Sunday, gathering five yards on two carries, because San Diego was behind all day.
Defense played a large part in Tennessee's 27-point explosion in the fourth quarter against the Eagles. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan (39 tackles, 1 INT) got into the act with a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown and safety Michael Griffin (47 tackles, 4 INT) recorded an interception for the fourth consecutive game for a Titans defense that is only 23rd against the pass. Tennessee is 10th in run defense and held Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to 48 yards on 16 carries. The Chargers don't pose much of a threat running the football, so the Titans will try to keep Rivers and his timing off-balance. Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones (17 tackles, 2 sacks) forced a key fumble that was recovered by cornerback Alterraun Verner (33 tackles, 2 INT) last Sunday. That's good news for Fisher's defense against a Chargers team that is struggling to protect the football. Fisher, though, still wants to see better third down efficiency on both sides of the ball, as well as more turnovers forced. The Titans produced four turnovers last weekend and held Philadelphia to 0-for-4 on third downs in the fourth quarter. Defensive ends Dave Ball (19 tackles, 6 sacks) and Jason Babin (26 tackles, 6 sacks) must apply pressure on Rivers to slow down San Diego's potent passing game.
Even though the Titans are coming off a 37-point performance, the Chargers' defense isn't a bad choice this week with how well the unit has played against the run and the pass. Rivers, Gates and Tolbert deserve starting nods unless something comes up. Tennessee has its usual fantasy star in Johnson and owners shouldn't be discouraged if Britt doesn't produce for the second straight week. Start Britt anyway, and his fellow wideout Nate Washington as well. Leave Tennessee's defense on the bench for this week, since it's on the road against a strong offense.
This a must-win situation for the 2-5 Chargers, as another loss would seriously derail the team's playoff chances. It's still possible the offense can carry the team on a winning streak, and it starts with an opponent Rivers is 3-0 against lifetime. He's also 28-7 as a starter at home in his career. Rivers hasn't had too much of a problem protecting the football, something that must be accomplished in order for the Chargers to snap their three-game slide. Anticipate San Diego's highly-rated defense to step in at times as well on Sunday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 27, Titans 13
10/28 19:50:33 ET